A Makeover for Arte Mestiza: A Community Affair

“I’m doing now what I wanted to do originally,” says Colorado muralist Emanuel Martinez as he applies fresh paint to his 37-year-old mural, Arte Mestiza, which spans the concrete wall of the parking lot of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. “I am representing the artists whose work I am painting with more color, greater detail, and better accuracy.”

Martinez is breathing new life into Arte Mestiza with an explosion of color, lending a newfound vibrancy that makes every panel in the two-thousand square foot mural pop.

Sharing in the excitement of the mural’s makeover are members of the community. On this day, visiting classes of 4th graders from Widefield Elementary School of the Arts were on hand to learn how to “read” art. Viewing the mural from left to right tells a story of the Mestiza people. Panels on the left side of the mural represent the different works and techniques of Mexican artists depicting life in the Pre-Columbian era.

“Mayans did not wear gold,” he tells the young art students. “They wore jade.” So, Martinez changed that element which, he explains, is the opening panel of an art gallery, allowing the viewer to drift through time. “The mural represents Mestizos, a mixed race of indigenous people with the Europeans from Spain who colonized Mexico.”

Panels on the right side of the mural’s gallery depict the Spanish European influence. In the center lies the Mestiza, or mixed-race female, who blends the two cultures, along with the symbolic eagle and serpent, which are both represented on the Mexican flag.

Thanks to a fifty-thousand dollar grant from the National Endowment for the Arts gifted to the Fine Arts Center for this restoration project in June, Martinez was able to secure top quality paints and materials to better preserve Arte Mestiza, which has suffered from sun fading since 1986, when he originally painted it.

Martinez began his restoration work in mid-August, repairing cracks and prepping the monochromatic mural. As school started, he invited students from CC and all over the Pikes Peak region to participate in the project with him. Children as young as eight have picked up a brush and painted parts of the mural on weekends. Others have observed the renowned muralist teaching the history of murals in Colorado’s Chicano/a/x culture as he paints.

“Murals belong to everybody. They’re public property,” Martinez says. “They reflect the community and tell a story.” They are also part of his mission, the Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado Project, which is trying to save all of the murals that have been painted in the state since the late 1960s.

Students from the CC Art Studio Foundations Drawing course, taught by Senior Lecturer and Artist-in-Residence Jean Gumpper, spent a class listening to Martinez describe his technique, in which he uses a fishing rod tipped with a piece of charcoal to map out the boundaries so that the large mural is sketched to scale. He then paints it one square foot at a time, working in a grid pattern. The students had practiced the method in class and were amazed by his talent.

“I really like the gallery concept,” says CC Art student Esa Chen ’25. “It’s cool to know this history as well as his process—what he wants to paint and how he expresses it to the viewer.”

As part of Gumpper’s final Block 1 project, students had the chance to paint the mural with Martinez. Several took advantage of the opportunity and are now part of this masterpiece, envisioned by the 75-year-old muralist who’s created more than 100 murals in the state since 1968.

“I started doing these as a troubled youth when I was 13 during the civil rights movement in the 1960s,” says Martinez. “I wanted to instill pride in our communities. Our people painted murals to teach our own history because the schools had failed us.” Half of Martinez’s murals were painted at detention facilities and schools in 15 states. He tries to influence the young people sent to detention facilities to change their life and make better decisions. “It’s how I made a living for years.”

Martinez isn’t sure how much longer he’ll be able to paint murals, but he’s glad he made an impact on so many people who’ve taken the opportunity to see his work. He’s delighted to have inspired new generations of artists through Arte Mestiza. He encourages students to reach inside and paint with passion.

“Always be open to your creativity,” he tells the art students. “It’s part of the whole process, if not the most important part."

Report an issue - Last updated: 09/20/2023